A Zoroastrian woman’s path to the Catholic faith

NEW CANAAN—Silloo Madan came from a devout family in Bombay, a family that worshiped the god Ahura Mazda and faithfully practiced the 4,000-year-old Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. Life seemed perfectly normal…until she met the Blessed Mother, and things were never the same again.

When she was seven, her mother, Rupi, and her father, Goody Seervai, an internationally recognized musician, sent her to St. Joseph’s Convent, a boarding school in the mountains of Panchgani, where she received “an intense Catholic upbringing” from the Daughters of the Cross, a religious order that introduced her to the Blessed Mother.

“I was extremely fond of Our Lady. There were pictures and statues of her in our school, and I wanted them in my home as well,” Silloo recalls. She continued to practice the Zoroastrian religion, but her spiritual life began to change, subtly at first but then with greater intensity. She started to say the rosary along with devotions to the Blessed Mother—a practice that continued even after she left the school in 1960.

Even though Silloo worshiped the god of Zoroastrianism with her parents and twin brother Jangoo, she always felt the presence of the Blessed Mother in her life. “I knew she was protecting me,” she says.

Zoroastrianism, believed to be the world’s oldest monotheistic faith, was founded by the prophet Zoroaster, who lived during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC in what today is northeastern Iran. Ancient texts say that after Zoroaster received a divine vision, he taught his followers to abandon polytheism and worship a single god, Ahura Mazda.

In 1963, Silloo came to the United States and moved to New York while she was working for Air India. At the time, her boyfriend was studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and when he graduated, they married and had three children. However, after 30 years of marriage, they had a bitter divorce and separated in 1998, she said.

“I was still a Zoroastrian and very religious,” she said. “But after a crisis in my life and my divorce, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me, and I started to turn toward New Age practices like reiki, astrology and tarot cards.”

Many of her Catholic friends cautioned her about the spiritual dangers of what she was doing but she ignored them.

Over the years, she said, “I always felt something was missing but didn’t know what it was.”

A turning point came when some friends invited her to make a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Blessed Mother is believed to have been appearing since 1981, attracting an estimated 30 million pilgrims over the past 40 years.

“I was going through a difficult time in my life, and it was just what I needed,” she recalls.

In 2000, after several false starts, she traveled to Medjugorje and met two other pilgrims from New Jersey who shared her devotion to the Blessed Mother. They were quite surprised to learn that Silloo was Zoroastrian…and prayed the rosary.

The only prayer she didn’t know was the Hail, Holy Queen, so she asked the Blessed Mother to help her, and on the flight over, a passenger gave her a card with the prayer on it.

When she looks back on the friendship that developed between her and fellow pilgrims Pat and MaryAnn, Silloo says, “God has given me guardian angels all my life. I have been so blessed. He has surrounded me with amazing people, and he never leaves me in times of difficulty.”

When they arrived in Medjugorje, it was the beginning of several days of prayerful meditation and worship.

“It was just beautiful. Everything was going fine,” she recalled. “We climbed Apparition Hill. We prayed and felt such peace, but my heart was still not at ease because I needed something more.”

Her friends urged her to go to confession, and she took their advice and went to a priest from Ireland who happened to be an exorcist. And when she told him her story, he made her promise to give up the New Age practices.

“I was scared,” she said. “When I came out of confession, my heart was beating so fast. Right then, I made a promise to the Blessed Mother that I would never do that again … and I kept that promise.”

On another night, she went to Eucharistic adoration and had a spiritual experience that changed her.

“My heart was opened and I cried,” she said. “I felt so close to Jesus at that moment, and it was a turning point for me.” The other pilgrims were receiving Communion, but despite her great desire to join them, she didn’t because she wasn’t a Catholic. In that moment, she knew she was meant to follow the path to the Catholic faith.

Before returning home, she went to talk to a priest about converting, and he encouraged her to begin formation in the RCIA program.

“He spoke so beautifully about the faith and Our Lady, and he opened my eyes and heart,” she says. The next evening, when she returned to adoration, her spiritual longing intensified, and her friend Patty told her, “Mary is really calling you, Silloo.”

In the coming months, she experienced a series of signs that confirmed to her that she was meant to become a Catholic.

She started formation at St. John Parish in Darien, began attending Mass and joined the choir. It was a new and exciting spiritual adventure for her.

“When I began classes, I didn’t know who the Holy Spirit was,” she recalls. “I asked, ‘Who is the Holy Spirit?’” And the instructor promptly responded, “How do you think you got here?”

At the Easter Vigil Mass in 2002, she received the Sacraments of Initiation and her life began to change immediately.

“It was a breathtaking, beautiful experience,” she says. “Our Blessed Mother brought me to Jesus because I didn’t know him that well, and it has been such an inspiration and blessing in my life.”

Coming to know Jesus and the meaning of his Passion and Death has also helped alleviate the bitterness over her divorce.

She recalls praying, “Lord, if you could forgive them for being nailed so brutally to the cross and say, ‘Father, forgive them,’ how can I not forgive?… I need your grace to forgive myself and my ex-husband.”

Now, there is peace in their family and a new friendship between her, her ex-husband and their children, Cyrus, Jay and Scheherazade.

“I could only do that with his grace and the Holy Spirit,” she says.

Since becoming a Catholic, there have been many miracles in her life, but two are particularly meaningful.

After Silloo’s conversion, her mother, Rupi, moved in with her and would observe her praying the rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy every afternoon. When Rupi suffered a stroke, she was in the emergency room at 5 o’clock in the morning, and told her daughter, “Silloo, I want to be on the same road as you—I want to become a Catholic.”

She was later baptized and confirmed. Silloo, who was her godmother, gave her the name Faustina, in honor of St. Faustina, to whom Jesus gave the revelations of Divine Mercy. Rupi died a Catholic in 2005 on May 3, the feast of Our Lady, Queen of Poland.

Silloo’s twin brother, Jangoo, also suffered a stroke and was taken to Norwalk Hospital, and he, too, felt compelled to follow the same path as his sister.

“He was adamant that he wanted to be a Catholic,” Silloo said. “We gave him the name Joseph, and he lived four years after his baptism.”

Today, Silloo is a member of St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan and says, “I am so blessed. We have a wonderful pastor and priest, and I feel surrounded by a love and joy that I never felt anywhere else. I am so grateful to God for having brought me into the faith.”

When she looks back on the path that led her to the Church, she has nothing but gratitude for the gifts she has received.

“How can I ever deny my Catholic faith?” she says. “Look at the joys that God has given me in my life….The Eucharist is everything to me. It is so beautiful to know the Catholic faith. Once Jesus becomes your friend, it is eternal and he is always going to be there for you.”